Expect Hazy Days Ahead As Indonesia Declares Emergency Over Forest And Land Fires
Southeast Asia could see haze in the days ahead as Indonesia's western province of Riau declared an emergency yesterday (8 March) as forest fires spread
"The governor has declared an emergency over forest and land fires blazing on the island of Sumatra now, to be able to prevent a repeat of the haze that occurred in 2015," said provincial government spokesman Darusman, adding that life in the province continued to be normal.
The fires, which send choking smog over Southeast Asia every year, raged uncontrollably across several provinces last year, costing an estimated USD16 billion, and pushed average daily greenhouse gas emissions above those of the United States.
About 500 military and police personnel and a water-bombing helicopter have been deployed to help fight the fires but the haze had not yet reached urban areas, he said.
Last year, hazardous haze from Indonesia choked Southeast Asia for months. While haze is an annual affair, it was particularly bad in 2015 because of a prolonged dry season caused by the El Nino weather pattern.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo has urged authorities to contain so-called hotspots, where fires start and spread to their surroundings.
This year, Widodo set up an agency to restore around 2 million hectares (5 million acres) of carbon-rich peatlands which typically produce more smog than forest fires.
But past efforts by Indonesia and neighbouring countries to prevent the fires, or put them out once started, have shown little success. Last year's fires ended only when the rainy season arrived to douse them.
Meanwhile, Indonesia's anti-corruption commission said that it is attempting to solve the country's longstanding crisis inflicting its prized tropical forests, as the government lost billions of dollars in revenue
Dian Patria, head of corruption prevention for natural resources at the Corruption Eradication Commission, said top officials from other ministries and agencies have given their backing to the plan.
Protecting extensive tropical forests that are among the largest in the world is a key issue for Indonesia and Southeast Asia. Unreported timber production deprives the Indonesian government of revenue it could use to improve infrastructure and services for its still largely poor population of more than 250 million.
Annual burning of forests and peatland in Sumatra and Kalimantan to clear land for palm oil plantations and other agriculture is a regular bane for Malaysia, Singapore, southern Thailand and parts of Indonesia. The fires produce a smoky haze that is a health hazard, often forcing people indoors and shutting down schools and airports.